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CHAPTER XV


THE CONSPIRACY


Dick stood at the entrance to the tent receiving his guests. He was a little pale from his recent experience, but otherwise did not seem to have suffered any ill effects.

"Well, Bricktop," he called heartily, as the sandy-haired youth approached, his face almost the color of his locks, "I was afraid you wouldn't come. If it hadn't been for Bricktop there wouldn't have been any party here to-night," he went on, turning to a group of young people. "No, nor any Dick Hamilton, either. He pulled me out in the nick of time."

"Oh, pshaw! I didn't do anything," protested Bricktop, who hated praise.

"I think he was perfectly splendid!" exclaimed Mabel Ford, looking at Bricktop with her big blue eyes in a way that made that modest hero blush more fiercely than before.

"It was perfectly grand!" declared Bertha Lee, known as "Birdy" among her friends. "How I wish I was a big, strong young man," and she gazed admiringly at Bricktop.

"Why not a strong lady," suggested Simon Scardale, with a grin, as he joined the group.

At his approach several girls moved away, as they did not like him. Guy was close in Simon's wake, and both boys nodded to Dick.

"Feeling pretty fit now, old chap?" asked Simon.

"Oh, I'm all right," answered Dick.

"Feel like having a game of billiards?" went on Simon. "I'll bet you ten dollars I can beat you on your own table."

"No, thank you," replied Dick, with a laugh. "I'm too busy looking after my guests to-night. Besides, I don't play for money. Come over some other time and I'll play you all you like, for fun."

"Stingy beast," muttered Simon, as Dick moved away to greet some newcomers, "and I need the money, too."

"Maybe you'd lose," suggested Guy.

"I don't play to lose," replied Simon, with an ugly leer.

The little feeling of strangeness which many of the boys and girls at first experienced gradually wore off, and soon the party was in full swing. All sorts of games were played, and Dick and his closest chums saw to it that there was no lack of liveliness. A number of the fathers and mothers of the younger children had accompanied them, and to these older folks Dick was attentive, seeing that they had seats, and sending the waiters to them to ask if they wouldn't have a cup of coffee or some ices before supper was served.

"Say," observed one man to his wife, after Dick had found them chairs, "you'd never know he was a millionaire, would you?"

"Why not?"

"Why, because he's just like other boys—he's like one of our own folks."

"Of course he is," answered his wife. "It's only the wrong kind of people that money makes any difference to. Dick Hamilton can't help being nice. His money hasn't spoiled him," which view was shared by more than one that night.

And such a supper as there was! Long years afterward some of the boys and girls, who were quite small when they attended Dick's party, used to tell of it as though it was a visit to fairyland. Dick fairly outdone himself in seeing that everyone had a good time, and from the faces around the long tables, set within the tent, it was evident that the way to young people's hearts, or, at least, to their good spirits, is through their stomachs.

Dick walked about, like a perfect host, seeing that everyone was served, before sitting down himself. At his heels followed Grit, who was unhappy when away from his master.

"Oh, what a perfect darling of a dog!" exclaimed Birdy Lee, as she stopped over to pat Grit, which indignity he suffered in disdainful silence.

"Isn't he sweet!" chorused several other girls.

"Well, he's no beauty, judged by young ladies' standards," said Dick, with a gallant look at his girl friends. "But beauty in a bulldog is more than skin deep," he added. "Grit is pure gold when it comes to being a friend."

"What makes his two teeth stick up that way? Don't they hurt his lip?" asked Alice.

"I never heard him complain," replied Dick. "But I'd better move along, I guess. Grit is getting hungry, and I don't want him to begin on any of the waiters. He doesn't take to colored men very well. One of them started to run when Grit growled at him a while ago as the man was bringing in a roast chicken."

After supper there were more games, and the fun increased as the hours passed. Dick was congratulated on every side, not only for the success of his party, but on his speedy recovery from the boat accident.

As the millionaire's son was crossing the tent, with Grit following at his heels, he met Guy and Simon, who had been together all the evening, and who had not mingled much with the other guests.

"Hello, Grit, old boy!" exclaimed Simon, but the dog must have detected the insincerity in the youth's tones, for he uttered a low growl and showed his strong teeth.

"Oh, I'm not going to hurt you," sneered Simon.

"No, I don't think it would be exactly healthy," remarked Dick.

"Is he a very valuable dog?" Simon went on, paying no further attention to Grit.

"Well, he's rated at a thousand dollars in the records of the Kennel Club," answered Dick. "I don't know that any dog is worth so much from a financial standpoint, but I know I wouldn't sell him for that; would I, Grit?" and the bulldog almost wagged his stump of a tail off in delight at Dick's caressing words.

"Humph! I'd look at a thousand dollars a good while before I'd give it for a dog," cried Simon.

"You don't know Grit," was Dick's quiet answer, as he turned away.

"Come on, Guy," said Simon, a little later. "I'm going to clear out of here."

"What for? Let's have some more ice-cream. It's bully."

"No," replied Simon, shortly. "I've got a scheme on for making some money out of Dick, and taking him down a peg. I owe him something for spoiling that bond sale."

"But he didn't spoil it," replied Guy, who, in spite of certain mean traits of character, was inclined to be fair. "Besides, you wouldn't have sold Dick worthless bonds, would you?"

"How was I to know they were worthless?" asked Simon, with a short laugh. "He has to take chances in this world. But this time there'll be no slip-up. Come on, I've got to see a man to-night."

As the two walked from the tent, where the merry-making was still going on, Guy saw something dangling from Simon's pocket. It looked like a small black snake.

"What's that?" he asked, in some alarm.

"Hush!" whispered Simon. "That's the leash thong of Dick Hamilton's bulldog. Come along!"